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Friday, September 16, 2011

Cuba: U.S. Restrictions on Travel and Remittances

Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Restrictions on travel to Cuba have been a key and often contentious component in U.S. efforts to isolate Cuba’s communist government since the early 1960s. Under the George W. Bush Administration, restrictions on travel and on private remittances to Cuba were tightened. In March 2003, the Administration eliminated travel for people-to-people educational exchanges unrelated to academic coursework. In June 2004, the Administration further restricted family and educational travel, eliminated the category of fully-hosted travel, and restricted remittances so that they could only be sent to the remitter’s immediate family. Initially there was mixed reaction to the Administration’s June 2004 tightening of Cuba travel and remittance restrictions, but opposition to the policy grew, especially within the Cuban American community regarding the restrictions on family travel and remittances.

Under the Obama Administration, Congress took action in March 2009 by including two provisions in the FY2009 omnibus appropriations measure (P.L. 111-8) that eased restrictions on family travel and travel related to marketing and sale of agricultural and medical goods to Cuba. Subsequently, in April 2009, President Obama announced that his Administration would go further and allow unlimited family travel and remittances. Regulations implementing these changes were issued in September 2009. The new regulations also included the authorization of general licenses for travel transactions for telecommunications-related sales and for attendance at professional meetings related to commercial telecommunications.

In January 2011, the Obama Administration announced policy changes further easing restrictions on travel and remittances. The measures (1) increase purposeful travel to Cuba related to religious, educational, and people-to-people exchanges; (2) allow any U.S. person to send remittances to non-family members in Cuba and make it easier for religious institutions to send remittances for religious activities; and (3) permit all U.S. international airports to apply to provide services to licensed charter flights. These new measures, with the exception of the expansion of eligible airports, are similar to policies that were undertaken by the Clinton Administration in 1999, but subsequently curtailed by the Bush Administration in 2003-2004.

Interest on the issue of Cuba travel and remittances is continuing in the 112th Congress, with some legislative initiatives aimed at rolling back the Obama Administration’s actions to ease restrictions on travel and remittances and others designed to further ease or lift such restrictions. The House Appropriations Committee version of the FY2012 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, H.R. 2434, would roll back President Obama’s easing of restrictions on remittances and family travel, while the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved version of H.R. 2583, the FY2012 Foreign Relations Authorization Act, would require enforcement of travel regulations as effect on January 19, 2009. Another initiative, H.R. 2771, has the intent of curbing frequent travel to Cuba by Cubans who have recently emigrated to the United States. In contrast, several initiatives would lift travel restrictions. H.R. 1886 would prohibit restrictions on travel to Cuba. H.R. 1888, in addition to removing some restrictions on the export of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba, would also prohibit Cuba travel restrictions. Two initiatives that would lift the overall Cuba embargo, H.R. 255 and H.R. 1887, also would lift restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba. H.R. 380 would prohibit funding to enforce restrictions on travel for educational activities in Cuba. (For further information, see CRS Report R41617, Cuba: Issues for the 112th Congress.)

Date of Report: August 24, 2011
Number of Pages: 42
Order Number: RL31139
Price: $29.95

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